ATLANTA - Atlanta police authorities have identified the two officers who died late Saturday night after their police helicopter crashed while looking for a missing child.
The victims are officers 48-year-old Richard Halford, of Lithia Springs, and 40-year-old Shawn Smiley, of Lithonia.
They were killed in a crash that happened just after 10:30 p.m. near the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Hamilton E Holmes Drive, just south of Interstate 20.
Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said no one else was injured in the crash.
According to a biography provided by Atlanta police, Halford joined the force in 1986. He had been with the department's air unit for more than 16 years, serving as a pilot. Halford also served in the police department’s Zone 4 precinct, the Motors and DUI units. He is survived by his former wife, and a 21-year-old daughter.
Smiley, who is survived by his wife and three children, ages 5, 7, and 9, joined APD in October 2010. He had been with the department's air unit since earlier this year, serving as a tactical flight officer. He previously served in the department’s Zone 2 precinct.
Witnesses in the area of the crash said the helicopter the officers were in fell out of the sky, hitting power lines on the way down.
"I noticed something falling from the sky. It hit the power line and it hit the ground. I jumped out my car and ran because I was really close to it," Ravien Walker said. "As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded immediately," added Walker. "It could have fell right down on top of my car."
Another witness described what he heard.
"All I heard was an explosion and I knew then, it was catastrophic," Darryl James said. "For that time of night, there was nobody on the street for some odd reason. The helicopter hit in the middle of the street with no traffic."
In a late night news conference, Turner said the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the crash.
Turner also said that the police department is doing everything they can for the families of the police officers who died.
“The families of the officers…we’re doing everything we can to support them at this time,” Turner said.
Mayor Kasim Reed also expressed his sympathy about the tragic loss of the officers in the following statement:
"I am deeply saddened by the terrible accident that claimed the lives of two on-duty Atlanta Police Department officers. We mourn these two brave men and offer our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones. We also pause to extend out sympathy to the men and women of the police department who place their lives in harms way every day to keep our city safe, and who especially feel the pain of this loss."
Channel 2 Action News learned Javare Shakir-Fulford, the boy who officers were looking for in the helicopter, was later found safely. The child's mother came to the crash scene to offer her condolences, authorities told Channel 2's Ryan Young.
Georgia Power officials said about 1,200 customers were without power for a short period of time after the crash.
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